History of Sierra Club and the
population - immigration connection


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November 20, 1997
Memo from Judy Kunofsky
former Chair, Sierra Club National Population Committee

This memo responds to your request for a history of Sierra Club consideration of the immigration issue. It is more detailed than the one staff has produced. It is based on my quick review of several documents, which in turn told the history up to that point.
Judy Kunofsky

The Board of Directors passed a resolution in 1969 calling for population stabilization in the U.S. "no later than the year 1990." Later Club policy called for actions at the local, state, and national levels to stabilize U.S. population "as soon as feasible." The 1990 goal was never feasible, even in 1969.
Those resolutions had been passed in a context of considering only reductions in fertility. Changes in federal immigration law caused levels of immigration to the U.S. to rise in the 1960 and 1970s.
The Population Committee proposed an explicit policy on U.S. population growth, dealing both with fertility and migration reductions, in 1977 or early 1978. It was circulated widely in the Club for comment. About half the entities responding supported the proposed policy while the others were strongly opposed. When the Board met in May, 1978, it adopted as policy some of the background language in the materials that had been circulated (5/6-7/78), but not the proposed explicit goals for U.S. fertility and immigration.
In 1980, the Sierra Club testified to the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, stating, 'It is obvious that the numbers of immigrants the United States accepts affects our population size and growth rate. It is perhaps less well known the extent to which immigration policy, even more than the number of children per family, is the determinant of the future numbers of Americans.'
Starting in 1981, the Club supported and testified in favor of bills in the House and Senate that would have declared population stabilization to be the goal of the country, and called for the prparation of an explicit population policy that leads to population achievement.
The Club was in the potentially awkward position of calling for a national population policy but unable to explain what that policy should be. This had not been a problem before because the Club's population program had been educational, not legislative, and because the first population policy bill was introduced in roughly 1979. The Club's first population lobbyist, Ken Hughes (who has since become the Rio Grande Chapter lobbyist), worked on populatio policy legislation as his top priority. Its main sponsor was noted environmentalist Dick Ottinger (D-NY).
The Population Committee once again took up the issue at its September 1987 and April 1988 meetings, taking advantage of the then-newly-released set of Census Bureau population projections that, for the first time, examined the effect of alternative combinations of both fertility and migration. Prior to that, they had relied on privately-produced projections.
The Population Committee proposed to interpret Club policy to say that immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which would permit the achievement of population stabilization in the U.S. According to the Census Bureau projections, this level would have been (gross) migration of 610,000 per year.
The Population Committee brought the issue to the the Conservation Coordinating Committee in June, 1988. This clarification was approved, subject to the issue coming back to the Conservation Coordinating Committee should it become controversial within the Club.
In 1990, internal Club attention to and controversy over the issue was heating up. The SCRCC presented a request to the Conservation Coordinating Committee to put the subject of immigration under the 'jurisdiction' of the International Committee and/or that the Club withdraw from its then-current position on immigration. I'm not clear what the request exactly was.
The Pop Comm stated, "The Population Committee's priority is getting the U.S. to resume its international leadership in providing support for population growth reductions throughout the world. However U.S. population growth is also of concern. Immigration is a matter of environmental importance because of its connection with U.S. population growth...."
My notes indicate that the Conservation Coordinating Committee re-affirmed their position of two years earlier.
In 1992, the Population Committee wrote to the Board of Directors to inform them of its plans to communicate to Congress, the Administration and appropriate commissions Club policy on immigration and population. The Board referred the letter to the Club's Conservation Coordinating Committee, which discussed the issue (now for the third time) and asked the Population Committee to develop a more specific policy dealing explicitly with immigration.
The Population Committee prepared a draft policy on a much broader range of subjects than just U.S. population policy, called, "Towards sustainability of human life on earth - a Sierra Club policy on consumption, U.S. fertility and migration". A first verison was circulated to population activists 12/29/92 and a revised package of proposed policies and background materials was circulated to the usual list of Club entities on 3/15/93.
There ensued several years of discussion, some calm and some heated, among the Population Committee, various chapters and groups, the Ethnic and Cultural Diversity Task Force, the Board at several times, and probably others. There were negotiating sessions of various kinds in various places, some discussing philosophy and some attempting to negotiate wording. Mike McCloskey and Carolyn Carr attempted a version.
The Board's resolution of neutrality was passed in January, 1996.


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